Fewer and fewer churches have an evening service these days. And in those that do, attendance is almost always better in the morning. Why is that?
That’s obviously a huge question with lots of answers. Some have dropped the evening service for pragmatic reasons. People don’t come anyway, so why put all the work into it? Others have struck it for strategic reasons. For example, many have replaced the worship service with small group gatherings, youth group, and other church-related programs. And still others, if they are honest, have stopped coming for lethargic reasons. Sunday naps are just so blissful! The game is going down to the wire! Or I can worship God outside in his created sanctuary just as well (if not better) than in a dark and musty church building.
And then there are those who don’t attend evening worship because they’ve never had evening worship. It’s completely foreign. Sundays have always included going to church in the morning and then doing whatever else for the rest of the day.
In this article I hope to confront you with three good, biblical reasons why missing corporate worship on a regular basis will inevitably lead to spiritual decline in your life and in the life of the church. Many books and articles have been written on why we should attend the means of grace (preaching and sacraments) with the people of God, but perhaps far less have ever wrestled with the other side of the coin: What exactly am I missing out on when I miss worship?
I have recently done some reflection on the unarguable rise in biblical illiteracy among church-going Christians. I’ll spare you the statistics, but know that the numbers don’t lie. Christians don’t know their Bibles like they used to. This is to our shame, especially in light of the incredible technological tools and resources at our disposal compared to previous generations.
But given the decline of evening worship services across the church landscape, perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised by our lack of Bible knowledge. Simply put, we get less preaching and teaching than we used to.
For example, let’s say that you used to be a part of a church which met morning and evening but recently decided to drop the evening service so that families could spend more time together (which, ironically, is impossible when churches replace evening worship with family night at church: men over here, women over there, kids in this corner, youth in that building). The average person, taking into consideration vacation, sicknesses, and special services, probably attended no fewer than a hundred services per year under the two-service model. However, by dropping the evening service or choosing not to attend it, that same average person will sit under no more than fifty sermons per calendar year. I’m not a math whiz, but I think that’s half!
Yet objections go like this: “Ok, yes, it’s true that we listen to fewer sermons. But we’ve replaced those sermons with Bible studies and fellowship groups—so what’s the big deal?”
The big deal is that preaching is God’s ordained means of grace. It’s not my idea. I’m not saying this just because it’s my calling to preach. Preaching is God’s idea. Yes, certainly God uses Bible studies and small groups and personal devotions. We should be in the Word daily! But the overwhelming model in the New Testament for spiritual conversion and growth is preaching and sacraments.
Paul writes, “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? …So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:14, 17). God ordinarily uses the foolishness of the message preached to create faith in people’s hearts.
But he also uses the Word preached to strengthen our faith and build us into maturity. Paul writes to the church in Thessalonica, “And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers” (1 Thess. 2:13). When God’s Word is faithfully and clearly preached, people change, by the Spirit of God.
In my weekly e-mail to my church family, I include a section labeled “Lord’s Day Meals,” where I list the Scripture texts and sermon titles for the coming Sunday. I call those sermons “meals” intentionally. God is pleased to feed us when we sit under the preaching of his Word.
Choosing to neglect the evening service is like choosing to skip breakfast or eating only carbohydrates and never protein or vegetables. Over time, such a lifestyle will begin to reveal itself in our spiritual health.
A second reason not to miss the evening service is related to the fellowship that comes from joining with the family of God.
As God tells us in Hebrews, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (10:24–25).
Of course our brothers and sisters who attend only morning worship services will say that they aren’t neglecting to gather together. True enough. But isn’t more of a good thing better than less? In churches that have evening services, a message is being communicated when members regularly miss, and it’s this: I don’t need your fellowship, and you don’t need mine.
But church membership is more than signing a piece of paper and being on a roll. To be a member of a local church means that you covenant with this particular, actual church family, with all its foibles and strengths.
To join a church is not to be a consumer. It comes with a high responsibility. It means that you promise to look out for your fellow members. You commit to pray for them and listen to them. You encourage them when they’re down. You rejoice when they rejoice. But how can you do this if you’re with them only half the time? How can we know one another’s needs if we make the deliberate choice to stay home half the services per year?
Others who are convinced of the evening service’s importance choose to “date” other churches for the second service. But we must ask: Why not go to your actual church? Unless you are seriously considering leaving your existing church for weighty reasons, you should make it a point to attend the church to which you formally belong.
On a practical level, I often tell people that fellowship is easier and often deeper after the evening service than the morning. At least in my context, the mornings can be kind of full. Soon after the morning service ends it’s on to Sunday school and catechism. And once those are finished, it’s often time to head home and get the dish out of the oven.
Of course hospitality ought to play an integral role in the life and fellowship of the church, which often happens on Sundays. But from my experience, there’s just something extra special about the fellowship on Sunday evenings. People are more awake than they are in the morning, less distracted, and usually more open to sharing their lives with each other.
As the hymn puts it so well, Sunday is the “day of all the week the best, / emblem of eternal rest.” I’m persuaded that if we really knew the blessing that Sundays and corporate worship are meant to be, we wouldn’t choose to forsake the evening service.
After all, we call Sunday the Lord’s Day for a reason; we don’t call it just the Lord’s morning or evening. It saddens me that we’ve turned a good and gracious gift upside down and think in terms of what we can’t do on Sundays instead of what we get to do.
I don’t mean to sound overly pious, and I wasn’t always there myself. Sometimes I’m still not. But by God’s grace, he’s shown me from his Word and experience that when we learn to see and enjoy the Day for what it’s meant to be, we wouldn’t trade morning and evening worship for anything!
Pay close attention to what God says in Isaiah 58:13–14:
In other words, we do not have to choose between the Lord’s Day on the one hand and pleasure on the other. No, it’s only when we forsake ourselves and our earthly passing pleasures that God promises to give us true, lasting joy in him. Let me ask you: If you don’t have the desire to worship God whenever he calls you to worship now, then what makes you think you’ll want to spend eternity doing it?
Forbid it, Lord, that those who routinely attend morning and evening worship be puffed up with pride and look down from our holier-than-thou perch. Morning and evening worship, week after week, month after month, year after year, is a gift, not a measuring stick.
May the Lord of the Sabbath, who was raised on the first day of the week, in whom is found true and eternal rest, be pleased to teach us the superior pleasures of being in his presence to worship him, to receive his Word, and to stir our fellow pilgrims to love and good deeds while we wait for heaven.
Rev. Michael J. Schout is the pastor of Grace URC in Alto, Michigan. He welcomes your feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org